Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2

India 3


So, time to kill and another newsletter. Last I wrote, I had just come back to India from Sri Lanka. By the way, I should give you a yoga warning, yoga is described from a first hand point of view later in this e-mail.

After arriving in Chennai (Madras), I headed straight out to Mahaballipurum, somewhere with interesting temples and supposed to be quite chilled. I only saw a couple of temples from the inside as the Indian government has recently started charging stupid prices to go and see many of the sites here. This included a couple of the main temples, however one can see them quite well from the outside without having to pay the exorbitant ten US dollar fee to have a closer look. For no charge however one could look at some impressive rock relief carvings, including a full sized carving of an elephant. Whilst in Mahaballipurum I also met four reasonable folk from Camden. Two of whom were heading off home and elsewhere, but Charlie and Ivo (not a typo, that is how he spells his name) were heading to Madras then further north, so I decided to tag along.

In Madras (recently had its name changed to Chennai by the government, although there is no practical reason and most of the locals still call it Madras), there was not much we wanted to do whilst there, but one thing, was to visit MGR Film City. This is a complex where for a nominal entry fee (fifteen rupees) one can walk around the complex and sets and watch them filming there new blockbusters. When we got there they were filming some kind of scene that involved a bloke with a small library in the back of a rickshaw chatting with the rickshaw wallah and some other bloke in a suit. That is about as much as we could work out of the plot. It was funny to see how unprofessional the thing was, with a bunch of onlookers making noise etc. even during the takes. We asked if we could be in the scene as extras, and someone said we could, so the three of us repeatedly walked past in the background of the shot as they did there couple of takes. That was my moment of Indian cinema glory. No doubt some of the best agents will notice my scene stealing performance and I'll be working for the major Hollywood studios in no time, or then again maybe not.

From Madras we got a train for the twenty-four hour train journey to Bhubeneswar. Then from there we went straight to Puri. Puri is not inundated with sights to see, but is an excellent place to take it easy. Part of the reason for this tranquillity is the fact that in Orissa, one of India's poorest states they have government authorised "bang" shops. So, this means that weed is not only legally available here, but cheap as well. This made our time there more relaxed than it may otherwise have been. The days generally being very leisurely sitting in the cafe on the beach, occasionally playing beach tennis but mostly just taking it easy.

In Puri, I parted company with Charlie and Ivo. Not too upset to see the back of Charlie as she turned out to be quite a demanding, self-opinionated princess. I went to Bhubeneswar to get a train to Varanasi. I managed to book a direct one for the following day, so spent the night taking it easy again, in a not very exciting town. The following morning I went to get my train, but the bloody communists had decided to hold a strike on all the railways in Orissa. This meant that the train was cancelled and I had another boring day in Bhubeneswar. The following day the train did go, but I was unable to get as comfortable a berth for the eighteen hour journey as I had previously booked, it further turned out that the berth I had, was to be shared with another fellow, not bloody likely. I allowed him to sit at one end on the edge whilst I tried to sleep. After a while of this he realised the floor would be more comfy, so left me to my berth whilst he slept under the smelly feet and the constant movement of vendors and police moving up and down the train. After an uncomfortable night we arrived in Mughal Sarai, from where I needed to get a bus for the comparatively short journey to Varanasi.

Once again I must warn you, yoga is going to be mentioned. Varanasi (or Banares as it was previously known) is a holy city and a pilgrimage centre. It is home to the famous burning ghats on the Ganges and a number of temples. It is somewhere a lot of people don't like as the alleyways by the riverside are crowded and filthy (even by Indian standards) the water in the holy Ganges river is disgustingly polluted, there is a lot of hassle from touts, but what many find most repulsive is the cremations at the burning ghats.

Varanasi is as previously mentioned a particularly holy site on the Ganges, pilgrims bathe in the river in a number of proscribed locations, totally immersing themselves in the horrendously polluted water (polluted with human, animal and industrial sewage). It is also a particularly auspicious place for Hindus to be cremated and have their ashes thrown, or if they died from a pox, leprosy, in pregnancy or infancy they are simply tied to heavy weights and dropped in the middle of the river. The process involved in the cremation is that the dressed and decorated body is carried through the town on a stretcher with the pallbearers and attendants chanting, Then the body is placed on top of a pile of wood. The male relative in attendance has his head shaved and wears just a white dhoti. He then runs around in circles several times and then lights the pyre. He then sits and waits whilst his relative burns. It is a peculiar thing to watch, some of the bodies are wrapped in bandages like a mummy, others simply wearing smart clothes. Some just seem to be sitting there patiently whilst the fire burns all around them, on some the flesh burns and contracts so that an arm may rise and appear to be beckoning. Somehow though it did not (at least in my eyes) appear particularly gruesome, but just another method of disposal.

Warning, Yoga is imminent.

Whilst in Varanasi, I decided to take a short course in yoga. Whilst travelling I have tried a number of local methods to try and relieve the back pain I suffer from. So, in India I decided to give yoga a try, the theory being that at the least, some exercise would not be a bad thing. With this in mind I went along to "The Banares School of Yoga", explained my reasoning and had my first lesson. Pramod (the yogi) a good humoured guy of thirty with some twelve years teaching experience took my back problems into consideration whilst giving me exercises. The bit I really appreciated however was that after whatever exercise, one has to take a couple of minutes break, lying down relaxing, so after twenty seconds exercise you take it easy for maybe two minutes, I quite liked and was quite good at that bit. Many of the exercises he gave me over the course of the next few lessons (six in total) were quite similar to those my physiotherapist had given me back home, which I found a little reassuring. During the course of my instruction, I created various problems for Pramod, my poor breathing preventing me doing some of the breathing exercises, my dodgy back preventing me from doing others. We also found that the ankles and hips I have twisted on this trip have still not entirely recovered, adding further problems to his constructing me a well rounded regimen. In the end he settled on a number of exercises that he says will not only improve, possibly even eliminating my back problems, but should improve my breathing problems and my ankles and hips should fully recover. So, I have to try and do the exercises every day, we'll see what happens there, and then in two to three months I will apparently me almost totally recovered from all my ills. I am not entirely convinced, but like I said previously, some exercise won't do me any harm.
From Varanasi, I came to Delhi in order to attend a Seder (Passover service) which I did, but wasn't very good. Whilst here I will also try and get my Bangladeshi and Burmese visas sorted, before heading east again.


Well, I'm about to leave this country so thought I should give you a final newsletter from India, it seems to have gotten a bit longer than I first expected, you are warned.

After spending a week in Delhi, getting hold of my Bangladesh and Myanmar visas, I took off for Khajuraho.

Khajuraho is the site of some of the most impressive temples in India. Dating back to the tenth century, with extremely elaborate carvings, particularly famous are the tantric carvings. These enact people in the process of tantric worship, basically screwing in incredible positions. These types of carvings are not the most common in the complex but definitely seem to hold the attention for a disproportionate length of time. What was more worrying was the number of carvings of women fellating horses, apparently something very common around the turn of the first millennium. The quality of the carvings is generally of a very high degree, it is also impressive that there has been so little weathering, considering that the temples are from the tenth and eleventh centuries and the most common material used was sandstone.

It was amusing when some of the locals were asking me if I thought it was possible to do some of the acts portrayed (they are generally under the misconception here that in the west we get laid all the time because all the women are sluts, you can't blame them really, in all the films or TV they see from the west (or the states generally) people meet, five minutes later they kiss, ten minutes later they are at it like rabbits, it could take them months to get a kiss here). The one that generally found most impressive was a guy standing on his head whilst being supported by two naked women holding his legs at right angles, whilst a third mounts him. The locals asked me if I could do that, I said the biggest problem would be getting the three women. They didn't appreciate why that would be difficult, it must be nice to be so naive.

After having looked around the temples, I met a couple of Dutch folk I had previously met on the bus to Khajuraho. After talking for a while we decided to hire a jeep for a drive down to Panna National Park, the next day. Apparently there had been regular sightings of tigers there and I had made a resolution not to leave India until I had seen a Tiger in the wild. So, before dawn the next day Richard and I set off in a jeep to find a big pussycat (Jakoline had been feeling ill, so not joined us). We got to the park and got our guide (a job creation scheme by the government as most of them do nothing but sit there and often know less than the clients about the wildlife). The driver was terrible despite repeatedly having told him to slow down, he drove around the park at breakneck speed, giving us no chance to see anything. When we stopped by a few other jeeps that had heard a tiger he started shouting to another driver at the top of his voice. Everyone else including the Indians tried to quiet him, but he refused to shut up, ruining what was our best chance of seeing a tiger. Then he tried to leave the park, despite the fact that we had only been there an hour and had agreed to be there until midday. To our consternation, he and the guide went off to chat with other drivers and guides for an hour before we managed to get them back in the car and getting them to do another lap of the park, this time even quicker. Thoroughly pissed off we let the driver leave the park as there was no hope of seeing any wildlife under those circumstances. On the drive back to Khajuraho he was driving like a lunatic and I told him to slow down a couple of times, then he almost crashed into the back of a truck, saving us by skidding off the road. I screamed at him to slow down and drive properly, he did the next best thing, he drove as a reasonably good Indian driver for the rest of the journey. When we got back we had a bite to eat and then went to speak to the tour agency with whom we had booked the trip. We had only paid the deposit, but this we felt was too much considering what we had suffered. After outlining our point for a while, the operator consented to return some of the money. This was a truly impressive feat, having money returned by an Indian, for poor service. Although this was what we had hoped for, neither of us believed it would actually happen.

The following day I began the journey to Bhandavgarh National Park, as according to reports, that was where I had the best chance to see a tiger, it having the highest concentration. Both a problem and benefit of Bhandavgarh however is its isolation. This is good insofar as it protects the tiger's habitat better and also reduces the number of tourists going to have a look. The problem is that it makes it a pain to get to. It involved two days of travel using buses trains and jeeps. When I eventually arrived I was determined that I wasn't leaving until I saw a tiger. Due to the cost of the jeep, guide, entry, etc. I wanted to find someone else who was going into the park. A driver found a couple of decent Swedes who had been there a couple of days and agreed to go into the park once more. On their previous forays they had seen a mother and her two cubs on each occasion. Apparently they had been staying in the same place for the last few days as they had a kill on which to feed. As this place was a little way from the road it had meant that for the last bit they had needed to take an elephant ride to get up close. This all sounded like good news so off we headed before sunrise the next day. When we got to where the mother and cubs had been they had moved away, so the hunt was on to find a tiger. After not long one of the mahouts (elephant driver) told us that B2 an adult male was heading towards us. They use elephants to track tigers as the elephants aren't threatened by the tigers and the tigers don’t feel threatened by elephants, apparently the tiger doesn't even notice the people on the elephants back (as long as they are quiet). All the other jeeps (there were about eight in total, all the jeeps but ours contained only professional and semi-professional photographers and film crews) started jockeying for position to see B2. There were two elephants tracking / herding him towards us. He then came out of the undergrowth and nonchalantly walked along twenty yards away from the road. In good view of everyone, the jeep drivers then tried to keep pace with B2 but they were all winding about and revving and getting in one another's way. He is a very impressive creature about seven feet long (two metres) plus tail. His colouring was not as orange as I had expected and towards his rear he was a darkish brown. Most of the time he was walking along side the road so we saw him mostly in profile, but occasionally he would turn towards us, and one could see his white mane.
The jeeps kept moving and revving and at one point B2 looked at us with a disdainful kind of well if you're going to make all that hullabaloo, I'm leaving, and turned to go. The mahouts had pre-empted this though and blocked his passage away from the road, so he gave another turn and started ambling across the road and through the woods on the other side. Once he had disappeared from sight the jeeps whizzed around to the road on the other side of that bit of woodland, where he re-emerged and kept on strolling. This went on for some time, he kept on walking in the same direction and the jeeps pursued him. At one point, there was only one jeep in front of us he walked within a couple of feet of their front bumper. He really didn't seem too concerned by all the attention. He then went to a tree at the side of the road that grew out of the ground at a forty-five degree angle and standing under it used it to scratch the top of his head and nose, before moving on again. Eventually he went where the jeeps couldn’t follow, but we had been watching and following him for about an hour. We had been very lucky how co-operative he had been, but by the end my Swedish companions and I were quite pleased he was able to get away from the hordes that had been haranguing him. I had enjoyed my tiger viewing experience, but couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him being badgered as he was. I realise this is hypocritical as I was part of the group doing the badgering. That afternoon I even went back to see if there were any more tigers to view, but unfortunately we had a fruitless search.

It would be remiss to presume that the tiger was the only wildlife we saw in the park, although it was undoubtedly the reason for going and the most impressive. Amongst the other wildlife we saw were a number of mammals and birds. The following list is compiled from the names I was told by the guide, who on the afternoon trip in particular was very good and pointed out a wide range of fauna. So, if you have any kind of knowledge of these things and see some inaccuracy in the name, it was either due to my misunderstanding of the guide or his inaccuracy.

The mammals included:

Common Langur - an ape with a light grey fur and a pitch-black face, which makes it look like it is wearing a mask. It walks with it’s tale arched over its back, with the tip almost touching the top of its head.

Rhesus Macaque - an ape with light brown fur and a red face, that looks perpetually embarrassed.

Mongoose - a large cute rodent, good at killing snakes.

Spotted Deer - similar to deer seen in Europe, the males possessing impressive antlers.

Sambar - A large chocolate brown antelope.

Five-Striped Palm Squirrel - a small squirrel with brown and yellow stripes on its back

Indian Pipistrelle - A small bat. Hundreds of which were gathered in a cave within the park, when we walked into the cave they started whizzing around us in circles, obviously agitated by our presence.

The Birds included:

Magpie roller, Blue jay Indian roller, Brown Piss Owl (with great searching eyes), Red Water Lapwing, Old Bastard Kingfisher, Minah, Indian Tree Pie, Peafowl (saw a couple of peacocks showing off for the mating ritual, also saw them fly which is in a peculiar motion bobbing up and down through the air as though on a wave), Red Jungle Fowl (Wild Chicken to you and me), Grey Hornbill, Dixon Vulture, Long Bill Vulture, King Vulture, Green Bee Eater, Red Painted Bulbul, Blossom Headed Parakeet (very attractive, similar to the sort of thing one sees on pirates shoulders), Blue rock Pigeon, Malabar pied hornbill.

So, after having seen a fair amount of wildlife that evening I went back to my hotel, where some musicians had been employed to recount the Ramayana, a holy story. This was unexpected but nice as I had thus far not had the opportunity to see one of these musical recitations. The best thing however was that they did not do the full thing but quit at about half past eleven. These recitals can take all day and night.

The next morning I left early to get to the nearest train station (an hour away by bus) to get a train to Bilaspur, in order to get a train to Calcutta, a process that took about thirty-one hours in total. I should call it Kolkata, that being the official name these days. The Indian government has spent unbelievable amounts of money in recent years changing the names of some of the cities. Most of the time the old names are still used by the locals and the new names are only used for official purposes. Examples of these changes are (old name first) Bombay > Mumbai, Madras > Chennai, Banares > Varanasi, Calcutta > Kolkata. Nobody seems to know quite why the government is spending all this money on what is essentially an unimportant exercise in comparison to where the money might be spent.

Having heard negative reports of Calcutta, I was surprised to find such a comparatively laid back, easygoing city. Much more relaxed than any other major city I have been to in India. It is also strange to see that they still have the very old style walking rickshaws. The first time I have ever seen them in real-life. Everywhere else I have been they have either cycle or auto rickshaws (tuk-tuks), here there are no cycle or auto-rickshaws I have seen but hundreds of walking ones. They aren't any quicker really than walking oneself, but one does get the chance to be lazy at least.
Since being here I have visited the Indian Museum (The House of Wonders, as referred to by Kipling), an excellent museum by third world standards, with collections that rival some of the worlds best museums. Unfortunately the maintenance and presentation is not what it might otherwise be, but the ethnological, anthropological and palaeontological exhibits are excellent.

There is an impressive collection of exhibits detailing the history and pre-history of the sub-continent. There are also zoological exhibits of a great range of species of land, sea and air based animals from all over the world, with particular emphasis on those from the sub-continent. There is a reasonable numismatic collection and for some reason a small but fair Egyptian exhibit. It is a much more comprehensive museum than any other I have seen in the third world.
As Calcutta was the capital of India until 1911, there are a number of impressive buildings left by the British. The most impressive amongst these is the Victoria Monument, a huge imposing marble building surrounded by ponds and gardens, with statues inside and out. The weather vane on top is five metres tall, weighing several tons. Inside is a very good exhibition of the history of Calcutta. As the town only really existed due to the British East India Company, the history is obviously rather entwined with the colonial rule in India. Unlike many of these types of exhibits though, this one is very objective and even pro-British in a number of instances, but becoming less so as it chronicles the independence movement. As mentioned above, the building is very impressive and the exhibits take one around the various rooms, with a statuary in the vast cupola.

I also went to the Kali temple. Kali is the patron goddess of Calcutta as well as being the goddess of destruction and rebirth. The followers of Kali make ritual animal sacrifices at least twice a day (using goats generally). It wasn’t long ago however that human sacrifices were made to the goddess. This stopped one hundred and fifty years ago, officially.

It is quite possible that it continued until much more recently though.

Getting to the temple was very easy, as Calcutta has the only metro system in South Asia, what is more it is clean, cheap and efficient. Some times the Indians can really surprise one. Now all that is left for me to do is sort out getting to Bangladesh, which shouldn't be too difficult, except that there have been several Hartals (general strikes) recently. That pretty much wraps up what I have been up to here.

Having first arrived in India in November I am about to leave and as such I have been reflecting on my time spent here. Leaving now is no bad thing, as I see it. I have spent quite a bit of time here and seen a number of interesting things. However I feel it is definitely time to move on, despite there being much more I could see. I have found that it is difficult to generalise about somewhere as vast and varied as India, in many ways it is a constant paradox. Most strikingly as Mark Twain put it India is somewhere where all life is respected, apart from human¡±
There are a number of other peculiarities. This is somewhere, where life is everywhere on and off the streets. It does not stop at the kerb, but people are as likely to be walking, standing, and selling on the road as in a shop or on the pavement. The same goes for the animals, particularly cows, which are regularly lying down in the middle of major thoroughfares, railway / bus stations, alleyways, etc. with the associated excreta.

The people here are also the least spatially aware I have ever seen. Not just that they don’t have any concept of personal space (an alien concept in most of the third world), but that they don’t seem to appreciate that if the are carrying a bag or whatever that it makes them wider, this means that one ends up getting hit by things (bags, bikes, carts, elbows, etc.) on a regular basis, not that the people are being malicious, they are just stupid in this regard and if one brings to there attention the fact that they have just bashed you with whatever they smashed you with, they will often apologise profusely, then do it to someone else. They are no better behind the wheel of a car / bus / etc. and as there are no driving tests administered, any loony can get to be a bus driver here and it generally seems that only the loonies are.
It is somewhere where there are high standards of education, but for a select few. Those who have grown up in the right background can earn degrees from internationally respected institutions, many of them going overseas on scholarships to improve their qualifications. However the majority of the country is illiterate, with literacy rates improving in the last years for the first time since its independence in 1947.

It has unbelievable natural resources, much of the country that isn't used for human habitation is given over to farming. On a typical train journey one is unlikely to see very much unused land anywhere. Unfortunately many people can afford basic nourishment, and people die of hunger everyday.

It is somewhere firmly rooted in the past, with traditions and culture dictating the way of life. Change here is extremely slow, even the administration of the railways is done to exactly the same model as the British left at independence. Yet India is at the cutting edge of the IT industry with many of the big players in IT having a large proportion of their work done in India (according to recent statements, within the next couple of years Microsoft expects to have over seventy percent of its programming and processing done in India). It also has a huge proliferation of internet cafes, even in small villages. Whereas in many other places I have been the tourists have created the need for these places, here the locals seem to use the places as much as the westerners, if not more so.

It is somewhere where the superrich live in ancient palaces waited on hand and foot, but many people can even find a shanty to live in, living and dieing on the sides of roads, in fields etc. However the middle classes are expanding, particularly in the urban centres.

It is one of world’s biggest polluters, with Delhi being ranked as the second most polluting city in the world. But just a few weeks ago legislation was finally enforced that meant that all public vehicles (auto-rickshaws, taxis and buses) in Delhi must run on non-polluting fuel, mostly CNG (compressed natural gas).

It is somewhere where many come to find inner peace, despite the fact that the country has been at war for over fifty years.

The locals here can drive one to the point of insanity by all asking the same questions (What is your good name? Where are you coming from? Is sir married? No, why not? Does sir have children? What is your profession?) interrupting conversations to ask these infuriating questions, waking one up to ask these pathetic questions, generally being a nuisance just to ask the same ridiculously mundane questions. Several times I have considered having cards printed with the information on, but decided not to bother as many of these interviewers wouldn’t even be able to read them. The only slight amusement I could derive from this unrelenting barrage was coming up with more varied identities. My favourite being Don Juan Sanchez Villalobos Ramirez, a professional assassin from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. For those who understood the answer it often left them confused, unfortunately however most don’t understand the answers whatever they are but merely ask the questions to be able to associate with a white man. This meant that my role-playing lost its novelty value quite quickly. The other thing the locals can do which can be particularly distracting is the stare. This is what it sounds like, but more so. These people have the most incredible attention spans, I have had people stare at me non-stop for more than fourteen hours, I didn’t even see the guy blink. It wasn't just that he was staring at the same spot in the air, he was staring at me, because if I moved so would his gaze. This is a regular thing and it is strange how one actually becomes used to it, but I still don’t know what is so interesting. The most disconcerting however is when waking up on the train with a small crowd all staring intently in to ones face, it’s quite an unnerving thing to wake up, rub ones eyes and see half a dozen eyes staring into yours. Basically privacy is a non-existent concept here, even in one's hotel room, the staff may come by regularly to check all is well that nothing more is needed etc. Then, they fail to understand that what is most wanted is to be left alone.

I don’t want it to all seem negative, the locals can be extremely hospitable and generous to the occidental, merely because of the colour of our skin. If we have a mind to (which I often do) we can abuse the superior station our pigmentation puts us in, in their eyes. This means that I never have to stand on buses here, can often push straight through a queue, can get waiters and the like to go down the road and get me something from another establishment because I don’t like theirs or they don't have it and I am too lazy to go myself. Other travellers sometimes look at me agog when I abuse this power, but then do so themselves once they see how easy it is.

The travellers here are often of the politically correct sanctimonious type who will rant on about the disgusting abuses of child labour in the third world and why they are boycotting XYZ company, whilst at the same type dictating their breakfast order to the nine year old kitchen hand, who obviously isn't child labour, he enjoys his job and gets to learn more English making us toast than he would in school anyway.

India has become a bit of a status symbol for travellers. There are apparently millions of occidental tourists on the Indian sub-continent at any given time, nobody really knows how many (the French embassy alone estimates over quarter of a million Frenchmen are on the Indian sub-continent legally, there are still more here illegally). A lot of these travellers make statements implying that only the real hardcore traveller can endure and even enjoy India, obviously this is bullshit. The problem is though that many people come to India to prove they can do it, to be able to go home and tell stories of the depravities. I have met tourists who have been India for months and have had a terrible time, the only reason they can come up with for not having left is that they wanted to prove they could do it. I have also met travellers who have become so immersed in the Indian way of life, they have lost all perspective both on who they are and what they are seeing. Some who have been here for years because of the easy availability of cheap drugs, who have lost any idea of where they are from and don’t feel that they can ever return to their homes and families.

The most amusing and often scariest of occidental travellers in India are those who come for spiritual enlightenment. This has created a huge industry of charlatan gurus, swamis and yogis. The problem being that the more genuine holy men here keep to themselves and often refuse to talk to anyone, particularly westerners in search of enlightenment. This leaves the majority of westerners chasing this wisdom with mainly fakes and charlatans to choose from. Perhaps this is a cynical view, but for greater insight read Gita Mehta Karma Cola - an amusing but insightful book filled with stories of westerners coming to find the truth and wisdom and going away sometimes poorer, sometimes weirder, sometimes wiser, sometimes crazier and unfortunately sometimes dead. Jung said of westerners in India that they can truly understand the philosophies and culture of India as occidentals who thought they were living in India were in fact living in bottles of western air, protected from India by objectivity, causality and all the other apparatus of the west - This makes it nigh on impossible for the occidental to be able to take on the Indian way of life and belief. Unfortunately there are too many instances of people going insane in the attempt. Most of the western embassies in India employ doctors whose sole function is to keep the recently demented company for the time it takes to repatriate and hospitalise them. These are however the small number who either find their embassy or are taken there, many just end up losing their minds in obscure anonymity. This has actually created a secondary tourist attraction, observation of the “freaks”. In a similar vein as in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury or Kathmandu's Freak Street.

All these things make the experience of India more intense than anywhere else I have so far been. It is not so unbelievably cheap as it used to be, I have been to cheaper places. The people are catching up with the tourists more and more, learning to exploit them to as great a degree as possible. This is probably only fair as in the past it was much more one sided, now the locals are getting a bit more out of the arrangement.

In my conclusion of India, I have really enjoyed it, although at times I have been incensed to the point of distraction. It is definitely time to move on as it has got to the point where I am becoming less and less tolerant of the circumstances in which I find myself.

So ends the diatribe. Congratulations if you made it through it all with me, further congratulations if you have any idea what I was talking about.

My understanding is that there is very limited internet access in Bangladesh and none in Myanmar (my next stop after Bangladesh), so please don’t be offended if you don’t hear from me for some time.

As always, take care and keep in touch. Raph

P.S. Just in case you don’t know what the subject header is about, here's the answer, not a bad bit of prose either:

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright

In the forest of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And, when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? What dread grasp

Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,

And water'd heaven with their tears,

Did He smile His work to see?

Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger, Tiger, burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

-          William Blake (1757-1827)



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